Choose Wisely and Ground Cover Can Be Lush and Low-Maintenance

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, January 21, 2006

Raindrop splash, the top cause of garden soil erosion, can be stopped only by plants that grow close to the ground -- called, of course, ground covers.

If you have enough sun, lawn is usually the choice to keep your topsoil in place. In shade, a ground cover that thrives in low light is better. Even in sunny areas, homeowners need alternatives to turf, especially on steep slopes.

Plants ranging from four inches to four feet in height that will mass together to form a mat make useful ground covers. Some are chosen for ornamental characteristics, but all must grow vigorously. Those that are aesthetically pleasing and hearty make the most desirable carpeting for your property.

If chosen properly, a lush, almost maintenance-free carpet of plants will grow. They can offer fragrance, flowers, berries and colorful foliage. They can also help control weeds naturally. Any vigorous low-growing plant that persists year after year and drops leaves or needles to add organic material is an excellent candidate.

Listed below are 20 practical ground covers -- 10 for full to partial sun and 10 for partial shade to shade.

Full to Partial Sun (More Than Six Hours a Day)

· Arnold dwarf creeping forsythia: Any soil. Excellent bank cover, yellow spring flower, can display good fall color. Install plants on three- to five-foot centers.

· Winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum): Grows quickly, with prostrate, arching and cascading stems that root wherever they touch the ground. Stems stay green in winter. Yellow flowers open sporadically throughout winter. If plants get too large after several years, cut to the ground before growth begins in spring. Plant at least three feet apart.

· Blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis "Blue Rug"): The ultimate in prostrate plants, blue stems that hug the ground and creep up to eight feet in diameter. Good for holding slopes. Plant three to four feet apart.

· Blue star juniper (J. squamata "Blue Star"): Slow-growing, low habit, drought-tolerant blue foliage, will create a billowy, blue, evergreen carpet that persists year round. Plant two to three feet apart. Grows up to three feet tall.

· Compact andorra juniper (J. horizontalis "Plumosa"): Tolerant of most soils and ocean air. Low-massing shrubs, to 18 inches, with a feathery, upright appearance. Turns light purple in winter. Plant these evergreens three feet apart.

· Flowering ground-cover roses: Grow from three to four feet tall, bred to be long-blooming, spread to cover the ground, do well in most soils, discourage cats and dogs, but deer will eat them. Available in white, red and pink, may cut back at end of season. Plant three feet apart.

· Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Moist, well-drained soil a necessity, full eastern exposure, protect from hot afternoon sun. Flowers deep blue in summer, red fall foliage, dies back in winter. Late to leaf-out in spring. Plant eight inches apart.

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